A Zen Summer


imagesYou trust your unconscious as if it were a loving father. But it is nature and cannot be made use of as if it were a reliable human being. It is inhuman and it needs the human mind to function usefully for man’s purposes. Nature is an incomparable guide if you know how to follow her. ~Carl Jung, Letters Volume 1, Page 283.

Remember Mr. Miyagi, the Japanese handyman who was a Karate master in the classic 1984 film, Karate Kid?  Everyone’s favorite part was the way he used hard work, specific movements, and mantras to train Daniel, a misguided youth. “Wax on, Wax off. Sand the floor. Paint the fence. Paint the house.” For Daniel, the work was grueling, pointless and demeaning until, as shown in this dramatic scene, his suffering led to a revelation akin to a transformational spiritual awakening.

Mr. Miyagi comes to mind when I think about this summer in the mountains. I’m a writer and practitioner of inner work and contemplation…not much of a physical doer. I look forward to being here all year, imagining the pleasures of no deadlines, no agenda. I picture myself spending long hours on the porch reading and writing in peaceful meditation. Then I arrive and barely find the time to publish a weekly blog post or finish reading a book.

Izzy's job is to carry my water and clippers in her backpack.
Izzy’s job is to carry my water and clippers in her backpack.

Here, my life is centered on my granddog Izzy, and Nature. Like Mr. Miyagi, both are exacting masters. Feed birds. Feed fish. Feed dog. Groom gardens. Groom trails. Groom dog.  Pick up trash. Avoid poison ivy. Wash dog. Worry about trees. Worry about rain. Worry about dog. Appreciate boulders. Celebrate rain. Pet dog. Four of these were especially prominent this summer.

My patting boulder. Old lady with fern hat or Green Man?
My patting boulder. Old lady with fern hat or Green Man?

Appreciate Boulders. I found a new favorite stone on the trail our handyman blazed through the dense forest last winter. It’s huge, mossy, and wrinkled as an old lady wearing a hat of ferns. Or is that Green Man whose face I see in the shadows? I can’t resist reaching out and patting him/her when I pass by. A few days ago I found this in one of my favorite blogs:

“The central symbol of the Zen garden is the stone. For Jung, it signified “something permanent that can never be lost or dissolved, something eternal that some have compared to the mystical experience of God within one’s own soul;” for Cirlot it is “the first solid form of the creative rhythm —the sculpture of essential movement, and the petrified music of creation.” Stones are pure and perfect in their simplicity, yet powerful, mysterious and inscrutable like the gods.” From Symbol Reader,  Symbolism of Gardens.

The stone mandala I made about 15 years ago captured in a Yin/Yang moment of shade and sun.
The stone mandala I made about 15 years ago captured in a Yin/Yang moment of shade and sun.

Worry About Trees.  The hemlocks are being decimated by a parasite and we’re treating many of them with biennial doses of medicine, but we can’t save them all.  On every hike after a big wind I have to remove or circumvent heavy branches and another fallen tree or two. A neighbor across the creek has several dead ones still standing. A few threaten to land on our house.

One evening after a storm with gale force winds we heard a commotion out on the main road. A giant oak had fallen and neighbors with chain saws were cleaning it up. It was there a century ago when the dirt road leading to our property was carved out of the mountainside, and over time its roots were exposed and weakened by erosion. Luckily no cars were beneath it when it finally surrendered to nature’s purposes.

This beech standing on tiptoe could be the next victim of erosion on our mountain slopes.
This beech standing on tiptoe could be the next victim of erosion on our mountain slopes.

Celebrate Rain.  I don’t know what it is about rain, but it feels magical. One evening Fred and I were rocking on the porch and watching black clouds gathering above the mountains when suddenly the ozone-scented breezes and whisper of raindrops coming up the valley transported me to an unusually intense meditative state. Curious, I checked my heart rate on my Apple watch. Within moments my normal resting rate of 61 beats per minute plummeted to a shocking 45.  Cool.

A woman too has a peculiar attitude toward nature, much more trusting than that of a man. ~Carl Jung, 1925 Seminar, Page 123.

Was Jung right, or was he still conditioned by some of the prevailing stereotypes about women in the early 20th century? I don’t know. But I do know I am deeply connected to this land.  I love it and trust it, and sometimes I worry about it. Will my grandchildren and great grandchildren love it as much as I do? Will they feed the birds and clear the paths and pat the boulders and love the trees enough to learn their names and do their best to protect them?

11406420_810904575646427_1976885749494247402_oFeed Birds? Last week Izzy’s fierce barking woke Fred at 1:30 in the morning. Exhausted from a day of “doing,” I was sleeping like a stone. Thinking she had to go out, Fred took her downstairs. But instead of heading for the front door, she stood transfixed at the glass door to the side porch. What was going on?

The mystery was solved the next morning when we found our biggest, sturdiest, squirrel-proof bird feeders mangled on the ground. Only a scattering of seeds remained. Somewhere in the Nantahala National Forest up the mountain a contented bear was snug in its den dreaming about last night’s tasty meal.

images-1The Asian martial arts are rooted in Zen Buddhism and Taoism. Their spiritual elements gave purpose and meaning to the ancient warriors who loved and practiced them.

The same can be said of those of us who find purpose and meaning in loving Nature, our Mother. If our practices have a spiritual element, so do hers. After all, inhuman though she may be, we come from her, and she’s an “incomparable guide if you know how to follow her.”

Credits:  Thanks to Lewis Lafontaine for the Jungian quotes.  Karate Kid video from YouTube. “Anyone can slay a dragon quote” image by Brian Andreas from www.pinterest.com“Try not to change the world” quote by Sri Chinmoy from www.srichinmoybio.co.uk

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0 Responses

  1. So nice to see you across the room last night. Wanted to speak, but you escaped too quickly. Love and hugs.
    Diane McPhail about.me/diane.mcphail
    dianecmcphail1@me.com dianemcphail.com, dianemcphail.info

  2. Loved this blog. Just finished a wonderful book by Robert Moor, On Trails. This is his first book and I really can’t describe it nor is there a genre into which it nearly fits. I will highly recommend it and would love to hear your “take” if you choose to read it. All is lovely here in Mx and happy that it is for you as well. XXQ Sent from my iPhone

    1. Hi Que. Thank you. 🙂 And thanks for the book recommendation. I’ll take you up on it. It sounds intriguing and if you liked it I know I will. I’ll order it today and let you know what I think of it. Glad to know all is well in Mexico. XOXO

  3. Hi Jeannie, thank you for this lovely meditative post. Makes me think of ‘chop wood, carry water’. I feel so connected to the land of my country, more so than ever. It’s been stirring a bit within, quite an extraordinary feeling. More of an appreciation I imagine, of the beauty and impersonality of Nature and her imperceptible changing seasons even though I sometimes feel as if I’m in the eye of the storm.
    I’ll watch The Karate Kid clip later – thank you too for this 🙂

    1. Hi Susan. Oh, how could I have forgotten ‘chop wood, carry water?’ Good one.
      On another note, I agree that the inner stirring of connection to the land has to do with a strong appreciation of Nature, and also, I think, of a growing awareness that were’re part of it. As our egos develop we think we’re separate from nature and it takes a lot of life experience to realize that no, we’re not separate from it, we’re nature too! We could compare it to an electron whirring around the nucleus of an atom thinking it’s separate from the atom, when in fact, it’s an intricate and important part of the atom.
      Thanks for writing. Enjoy the Karate Kid! J

  4. Beautiful post, Jeanie! I agree with Jung that women have a special relationship and connections to nature. I personally have an inner guide in my dreams, who calls herself Mother Nature and who came to me shortly after my own mother died. Women recognize Earth as our Mother and know instinctively that from Her body we derive all sustanance. In the matrimonial past She was revered and honored. I could go on, but now I’m preaching to the choir. :)) Thanks for this post and the beautiful pictures of your sacred land in NC. Hugs, Jenna

    1. Thank you, Jenna. I love it that you have an inner guide named Mother Nature. Wow. To me that suggests that a whole lot of archetypal nurturing, generative maternal love has been activated in you for a long time! I can actually see that on your Facebook posts, especially the ones about your granddaughters (and politics!!) Your granddaughters are truly fortunately to have a grandmother like you.
      My connection with Earth began at a very early age, then was forgotten for years while I pursued my academic goals. No big surprise there…… But she came back in a big way in the 90’s and has been becoming a stronger element in my life since then, especially with the purchase of my horse and the births of my grandchildren.
      And yes, it was a terrible disservice to humanity that she was lost to humanity for 5,000 years, but thank goddess she’s coming back!!
      And yes, this land in NC is sacred. But then, so is every piece of land on the planet! 🙂 I appreciate your comment, sweet friend. Warm hugs, Jeanie

  5. Thank you, Jeanie. I see the Green Man and love your boulder. The local hemlocks are also infected with the latest imported bug disaster and the hemlock gorge above my home might become tree-less. The National Forest Service is treating the trees as soon as they see signs of the bug, but it’s a losing battle. I have a hemlock giant in my woods right on the border, so I can only pray for her. I have few hemlocks in my woods and hardwoods remain healthy. Ah, rain. We’re getting some after the driest, brownest, hottest summer on record. I’m grateful and so are the plants in my gardens. I’ve had local black bear rip down my bird feeders and enjoy themselves. In the morning, I found a broken feeder and a flattened circle in the grass where the bear rolled as it emptied the feeder into its maw.
    Yesterday, I found a beautiful huge yellow and black garden spider with a web about 6 feet across and 3 feet tall. I photographed Spider Mother while she dined. She had already mended a hole in the web caused by the unfortunate bug who was breakfast.
    Nature Mother is more and more of a teacher and comfort to me. Yes, there is lots of work needed to live in Nature’s world and keep the critters outside. It’s more of a challenge without Vic here even though I have help. Vic loved Her, too. He was my first guide to walking barefoot in mountain streams, backpacking, and canoe trips. Our sons love nature and gardening, too.

    1. Hi Elaine, I love your newsy commentary on the goings-on at your woodland preserve. I’m amazed at the parallels in our lives and the similar ways we approach them. I loved nature as a child, pretty much took it for granted until midlife, then became increasingly drawn to it again after that. Do you suppose some of that comes with the accumulating experience, dare I say ‘wisdom’ of cronehood? Perhaps Jung was right about women having a more trusting attitude toward nature, although that’s obviously not true in every case. Vic is an obvious exception as are your sons. Jung didn’t say “always,” just “more,” as in “more often than not.”
      Thank you for writing. Here’s to loving and protecting the world. Jeanie

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